The common understanding about how movie sequels progress is that in the best case scenario, there is a gradual case of diminishing returns. For whatever reason, the Mission Impossible series seems to be reversing that expectation, each sequel piling on increasingly creative and outrageously entertaining set-pieces. Mission Impossible: Fallout is arguably the highlight of the series thus far, further delivering breathless action with overwhelming technical proficiency and grace. While many of Fallout’s blockbuster cousins try to cut corners on their fight choreography through blurry cinematography, or distract audiences with some equivalent to large CGI explosions, Fallout values clarity and highly specific action setups over the incoherent mess that has become the hallmark of the Equalizers and Takens of the world.
Mission Impossible: Fallout takes place two years after the events of Rogue Nation. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and the IMF are back in the relative good graces of the US government, with the previous film’s bad guy, Solomon Kane (Sean Harris), in lock-down. However the vestiges of his shadowy organization, the Syndicate, still linger and plan on acquiring a trio of plutonium cores for some nefarious purposes. After Hunt makes a decision to save a teammate over the success of their mission, the CIA pairs the IMF with one of their top cleaners, August Walker (Henry Cavill), to make the tough calls that Hunt seems unable to make. From there unfolds a web of intrigue, double agents, and betrayals that would make Ian Fleming blush. It may be thoroughly convoluted, but the unending sequence of twists is palatable because it’s easy enough to follow the important plot beats.
It’s incredible that six entries in, writer/director Christopher McQuarrie has managed to escalate the series’ penchant for intricately designed action moments. During its run time, there are helicopter chases, clever heists, and a plethora of fist fights that utilize the surrounding terrain. There’s a bathroom brawl in particular that uses crisp choreography and cinematography to depict a brutal exchange of blows. Following in the foot steps of great martial arts movies, the cuts are kept to a minimum, utilizing well blocked action to fully depict the insanity. However, it’s not all just punches and kicks, bodies are thrown through walls, heads are smashed into sinks, and a plumbing pipe is used as a makeshift club/blade, showcasing the series’ trademark creativity. Another late stage showdown features an almost comically over the top escalation of events, full of dangling fuselage, and impossibly high stakes.
This clarity in the set pieces is matched by a general sense of style. It’s hard to think of another 150 minutes movie that feels so briskly paced, a feat that is largely the result of the snappy editing. Smooth cuts on sound and invisible wipes seamlessly transition between the different locales of his globe-spanning adventure. Our characters are breathlessly framed within the trappings of chic spy-movie personas, from Hunt’s adaptiveness, to Illsa’s (Rebecca Ferguson) deadly demeanor, to newcomer White Widow’s (Vanessa Kirby) femme fatale visage, they each exude a particular type of cool. While it sometimes feels like there’s an over reliance on sweeping arc shots that depict Hunt sprinting at full speed on top of buildings, the penchant for wide shots allow us to take in all of the precisely orchestrated mayhem.
On top of all of the bombast, the beaten down Ethan Hunt is also given a surprisingly satisfying character arc. The film opens to a transient dream sequence, in which a bearded Solomon Kane performs the wedding ceremony between Hunt and his ex-wife Julia (Michele Monaghan). His enemy recounts his numerous failings, namely that Julia must live forever looking over her shoulder, just out of reach of the endless stream of villains who want to get to Hunt through a person he cares about. Hunt is clearly consumed by guilt, unable to pursue the feelings he has for Illsa due to being stuck in a self-destructive loop of guilt. Additionally, an early mistake causes the administration to further pressure him into becoming something he’s not, a person willing to sacrifice one life for many. Amid the near endless chaos the film manages to compare and contrast Hunt’s ideology with that of agent Walker, while also cashing in on the satisfying through-line of Hunt’s inner turmoil.
Mission Impossible: Fallout is the epitome of a great summer blockbuster, a propulsive action film bursting with ingenuity. The performances sell this world of intrigue and incredible stunts, while Hunt is portrayed as a man struggling with self-forgiveness and regret. While it’s villain’s motivations are never given any more explanation than the pedestrian exclamation that they’re bitter anarchists, the unending twists and spectacle distract from this issue. It’s heartening to see this trend of coherent, well staged action films continue, proving that the unintelligible Transformers of the summer movie scene haven’t won out just yet.